Cemeteries between Attab and Ferka: What to expect from them?

Before we’re able to go to the field, a lot of work on the cemeteries in our concession area is currently underway from Munich. Marion’s recent blog posts already discussed the potential of magnetometry for us to better understand what we are dealing with, and this is especially true in connection with Cajetan’s remote sensing work. Cajetan’s work has been revealing some interesting aspects of our sites and hopefully you’ll be able to catch glimpses of his work soon in here.

This work provides important background regarding the specificities of our sites. Alongside an assessment of the cemeteries and comparison with other sites across Nubia, this allows us to put together an ‚ideal type‘ (sensu Max Weber) that can guide us through future survey and excavation. The data sets produced by Vila, as well as previous MUAFS seasons, are also crucial for us to establish this ideal type, which works as a methodological tool to confirm our hypotheses (or not).

In my previous posts, I’ve already shared details about the assessment of sites I’ve been carrying out over the past months. Base on Vila’s data, we can know what to expect from the cemeteries in terms of preservation, types of structures etc. For example, the Late New Kingdom „tomb of Isis“ works an example of „elite“ or „sub-elite“ burial ground in the periphery of temple towns, where Egyptian and Nubian features mixed, probably to a greater extent than at temple towns—an example of hypothesis that we can create departing from an ideal type. This mixture occurred, for instance, in the combination of Egyptian substructures and a tumuli superstructure, remains of which were located in previous MUAFS seasons (see my previous posts). Departing from an ideal type such as the „tomb of Isis“ we can approach how the ideal varies across geographical and social spaces within our concession area.

For example, Marion and Cajetan’s work are shedding light on the extension of cemeteries where we can easily see from above those tumuli, some of which already explored by Vila, but also other features. It is difficult to determine from a distance what is the nature of this evidence. Comparative research then comes in handy. I’ve already proposed a discussion on the whereabouts of the majority of the Nubian population during the New Kingdom (a discussion that also applies to the Kerma period).

Figure 1: tomb types at Fadrus, adapted from Spence 2019, based on Säve-Söderbergh and Troy 1991.

Other Nubian cemeteries such as Fadrus in Lower Nubia add information about non-elite groups to our ideal type (figure 1). If larger tumuli such as the „tomb of Isis“ are easily located based on drone and satellite imagery, simple non-elite pit graves originally with no extensive superstructures pose more challenges. Though, comparisons allow us to open up to possibilities that include, in our research framework, social groups not clearly represented by evidence accumulated from large temple-town cemeteries. These groups—which comprised the bulk of Nubian populations working in the fields, mines, and probably carrying out other work in the service of larger centres—are yet to be fully understood (and here work at the cemeteries of Amarna provide us interesting comparison points, see Stevens 2018).

Several are the challenges of doing research from the office, as we cannot yet go to the field. But work conducted so far, from various fronts, help us establish a pretty solid starting point from which to explore our sites knowing more or less what to expect. This takes into account old and new evidence, extensive comparisons with other sites and a clear theoretical framework, which is essential to formulate research questions and carry out large scale projects such as DiverseNile.


Säve-Söderbergh and Troy 1991. New Kingdom pharaonic sites: the finds and the sites.

Spence 2019. New Kingdom burials in Lower and Upper Nubia. In Handbook of Ancient Nubia, ed. D. Raue.

Stevens 2018. Death and the city: The cemeteries of Amarna in their urban context. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 28 (1): 103–126. doi:10.1017/S0959774317000592

Fire dogs and more at Asparn: glimpses of experimental archaeology

As the new student assistant of the DiverseNile Project, I am happy to give in my first blog post an overview and summary about the experimental archaeology days at the MAMUZ Museum in Asparn/Zaya and of course about our experiments with the fire dogs, dung fires and pottery making.

Over the course of four days many archaeologists, experts and students came together in Asparn to work on several different experiments, share ideas, discuss questions and, of course, creating the possibility to experience archaeology in a practical and exciting way. Being outside in the nature, doing practical tasks and having a slight glimpse into how life was in the past was especially refreshing for everyone who had (and still has) to sit daily in front of a computer screen to follow online lectures.

I’ll start with a short summary about the event itself before I’ll describe our experiments.

In the big garden that belongs to the MAMUZ Museum, which is worth a visit and currently showcases an exhibition about experimental archaeology, are several reconstructed buildings and structures that showcase the history of humans in that area. Starting from tents of the palaeolithic times and ending at the current experimental construction of a medieval church. Inside and next to these buildings all different kinds of experiments were conducted, and certain techniques showcased, all part of a class of the University of Vienna where we could participate as guests from Munich. Experts showed how stones were chipped during the Stone Age and what materials were used for that, another explained how bones and horns were carved into tools and accessories, pottery was being made, as well as weaving, cooking a pig for a whole day in a pit and Ritschert (a stew the people who worked inside the Hallstatt mine ate everyday), iron and bronze smelting, creating jewellery and much more. One experiment I found extremely fascinating was the cremation of a pig on a pyre to figure out more about human burials of the European Bronze Age. The pig (which died naturally of an old age and not explicitly for this experiment!) was even dressed up and got ritual offerings for its descend into the fire and therefore afterlife, whatever that might have looked like for the people of the Bronze Age. Watching this, I can really imagine how special and touching such a burial practice was for these people, watching a loved one being consumed by the flames over several hours in such a way seems bizarre from our current, modern perspective of life and death.
Recapitulating I can really recommend the experimental archaeology days in Asparn. It was an incredible insight into life with its problems in the past and amazing that everyone showed you their skills and techniques while letting you try them out as well.

Now to our experiments: first we focused to let every participant get a feeling for the material clay while recreating Nubian figurines depicting female idols and animals. After everyone had fun creating figurines and got familiar with the material, we went one step back and created our own usable clay. Therefore, we learned what processes were necessary to get a formable material out of dry earth clumps. One part of our group was busy preparing the dry dung, in this case goat and horse dung, so it can be used to temper the clay. With that we created two types of different clay, one with the horse dung and the other with the goat dung.

The next task was important: recreating new fire dogs (based on the original drawings of the fire dogs from Sai Island and existing replicas made years ago within the AcrossBorders project) with the two different clay types which can be used for upcoming experiments. For all of us, who didn’t use pottery since elementary school, this was quite the big challenge to create them in the right proportions and dealing with the problems if parts breaking off or how to close cracks again. But in my opinion, everyone did a great job and we now have plenty of fire dogs that will hopefully survive a lot of future experiments!

Producing a new set of fire dogs. Photo: J. Budka.

While our figurines, fire dogs and test vessels were drying to be ready for burning, we started to figure out how the different dung types we had available behaved when trying to make a fire out of them. For our first small experiments that way, we split up in two groups where each group had to use camel and horse dung and, in the end, compare the results. For our first attempts the results were not really convincing: in both groups it took us a long time to start a fire with the camel dung, it produced a lot of (not so pleasant) smoke, the flames didn’t last long only with constant blowing into the fire, but when it worked we reached around 500°C. The horse dung was a little bit better, but it was still hard to get to a flame. The two experiments got inconclusive results with the highest temperatures varying in between 300°C and 660°C.
Though there are many reasons why our fires didn’t work the way we hoped, first we had to figure out how we organise the experiments on our own and with try and error we found better ways to observe our fires for the next tasks. Also, the quantity of the dung we used had a big impact on how the fires behaved, small amounts burned down way to quickly, and the windy weather wasn’t great for the flames either. But when experiments don’t work out the way you anticipate you learn a lot more and can change parameters for the coming ones.

Meanwhile, our PI Julia Budka conducted, together with a group of colleagues, the firing of pottery using cow dung as fuel. Surprisingly that fire reached over 1000°C, an incredible heat for such a simple fire. Whereas we found that exciting, the pottery didn’t, and a few were damaged in that heat. But this surprising result needed a follow up experiment, checking whether these high temperatures can be replicated.
Therefore we created two small fires, like in our previous experiments, with two different cow dungs to see which temperatures we could reach. We quickly realized that small fires didn’t reach those high temperatures and were only around 500°C and behaved like horse and camel dung previously. Therefore, we decided to create a bigger fire, which worked surprisingly better! We quickly reached the same temperatures in the small experiment and surpassed them in a short amount of time. While blowing into the fire with three persons in a row, we successfully reached over 1000°C in a few minutes and this in a smaller fire, compared to the one where the pottery was burned. This opens a possibility for different future experiments!

The dung fire used for cooking with a set of firedogs and a Nubian cooking pot. Photo: S. Neumann.

As our last experiments we used two firedogs and one cooking pot to figure out if such a setup is useful for cooking. We started a fire with horse dung in the middle between the two firedogs, above it we placed the pot, so it sat on the two firedogs. For a while it worked pretty well, but as the dung created more and more ash the space was not big enough that the fire could get enough oxygen to burn and be sustained with new dung properly. It was a long and tedious process to cook something this way. Also, the term cooking is misleading, we just barely managed to heat the water inside the pot a little bit.

A trial arrangment of two fire dogs holding a cooking pot above the dung fire. Photo: S. Neumann.

Since this experiment didn’t work well, we decided to change our methods and tried a big fire with cow dung again. We spread out the dung on a bigger area, created a well working fire and placed the firedogs and the pot in the centre of it. The fire was burning and reached a temperature of around 470°C, but surprisingly the contents in our pot only measured around 60°C. Where did all the heat go? Was the pot absorbing all the heat or the firedogs? In the end the firedogs suffered quite a bit in this fire, they ended up turning completely black – nothing which is known from the real archaeological findings.

With that our experiments in Asparn ended with a lot more questions and we still have no definitive answer how the firedogs were used exactly. Let’s hope we can continue our experiments next year with the new knowledge and questions we gained this time!

How magnetizable are you? – Magnetization in archaeological prospection

In my latest blog post, I discussed how to read magnetograms and what we have to keep in mind regarding the Earth’s Magnetic Field and the location of the concerning site. Another important factor to approach the comprehensive interpretation of our data is the environment, esp. the geology, geomorphology and formation processes of the region. For magnetometry, it is especially the knowledge about magnetic properties (ferromagnetism) of rocks, minerals and soils.

The magnetogram shows the total magnetization, which is composed by the induced and the remanent magnetization (Fig. 1). The relation of induced and remanent magnetization is described by the Koenigsberger ratio (Q-ratio). It informs us not only about the quality of the rock sample for paleomagnetism, but also if we are dealing with archaeological objects.

Figure 1: Magnetization for rocks with induced and remanent amounts (Lowrie 2007, 321 fig. 5.40 a).

The induced magnetization exists with an applied external field only, e.g. the Earth’s Magnetic Field, and mostly goes along with the direction of the Earth’s Magnetic Field. For interpreting our magnetograms, it is helpful to conduct additional magnetic susceptibility measurements in the field, which tells us more about the induced magnetization. The magnetic susceptibility describes how magnetizable a sample/material is in an applied field. It is affected by the type of contained minerals as well as their grain size. The resulting values are unit less and can be negative (diamagnetic) or positive (ferromagnetic, ferrimagnetic, paramagnetic). Susceptibility can be measured in the field as well as in the laboratory, where more precise measurements are possible and additional parameter can be investigated.

The remanent magnetization is a permanent magnetization, independent of an external field, and important in paleomagnetism and archaeomagnetism. The natural remanent magnetization is the sum of the remanent magnetization and can be composed by several elements. For archaeological prospection, one of the most important remanent magnetizations is the thermoremanent magnetization (TRM). It is formed through heating of material over Curie temperature and cooling in an applied magnetic field, whose direction (Declination) is saved. Kilns, ovens and burnt objects like pottery or bricks etc. are the best examples for TRM. Chemical remanent magnetization (CRM) can be found in sedimentary or metamorphic rocks, whereas detrital remanent magnetization (DRM) develops during sedimentation of small magnetic particles in smooth water. Isothermal remanence (IRM) is the reason why we can detect also lightning strikes (LIRM) in our magnetograms. Although remanent magnetization is usually permanent, several factors could alter it, such as weathering.

But why are some materials/rocks more magnetic or magnetizable than others? It depends on iron oxides. Iron oxides are not only responsible for magnetization but also playing a role which colour a material has. The most important iron oxides regarding archaeological purposes are magnetite, maghemite, greigite, hematite, goethite as well as titanomagnetites, occurring in soils. While magnetite and maghemite are showing up to 1000 times higher susceptibilities than hematite, the latter is responsible for the typical red colour. Pedogenic, anthropogenic, lithogenic, and bacterial processes are responsible for the enhancement of soils, esp. top soils. Additionally, originally nonmagnetic materials can show enhanced magnetization: magnetotactic bacteria in organic materials are generating magnetite so that already gone posts, palisades etc. can be detected by magnetometry.

Magnetic susceptibility measurements in the field can be carried out selective e.g. for scattered objects and rocks on the surface or areal (separate geophysical prospection method). They can be used to define the extension of archaeological sites, activity zones or features in human made environments. Furthermore, they help understanding the morphology, formation processes, erosion and sedimentation as well as stratigraphic sequences for climate research and soil formation processes. Usually, top soils as well as archaeological soils are showing higher magnetic susceptibility values caused by enhancement of magnetic minerals due to the use of fire and fermentation. That is the reason why we can detect areas of human activity, e.g. settlements, and determine their extension.

How can we transfer this knowledge to the MUAFS concession area? The geological map of the Nile valley shows mostly sandstones, siltstones and mudstones accompanied by metavolcanic rocks as well as colluvium, sand sheets and dunes. For the volcanic rocks, we can assume high magnetic susceptibilities, whereas for the sandstones, siltstones and mudstones weak magnetic susceptibility is rather likely, depending on the contained minerals.

During the first geophysical campaign, we conducted spotty magnetic susceptibility measurements on our sites as well as the environment. Therefore, we used the handheld Kappameter SM-30 (Zh-instruments, Fig. 2). While magnetometry is a passive method, magnetic susceptibility meter are active instruments with a small coil included. Sampling the scattered rocks and archaeological objects like mudbricks gives an idea what we can expect in the magnetogram. Furthermore, the method can be applied in excavation trenches e.g. to distinguish stratigraphic layers or walls/floors and susceptibility maps can be produced. Due to magnetic susceptibility it is feasible to differentiate sources of raw material e.g. for mudbricks.

Figure 2: Measuring the magnetic volume susceptibility of a mudbrick laid out in the sun for drying with the Kappameter SM-30, showing a value of 2.22 [10-3 SI] (M. Scheiblecker).

For the settlement site GiE 001 at Ginis East, the scattered rock material shows mostly susceptibility values in a range of 0,302 to 0,826 [10-3 SI], esp. quartz, schist, and sedimentary rocks, while rocks of volcanic origin result in values around 7,5 [10-3 SI]. The surface values are ranging between 4,35 to 5,6 [10-3 SI] and mudbrick from a partly upright standing hut shows values of around 4 [10-3 SI]. For this site, we could expect therefore the following: walls made of sedimentary rocks would cause negative anomalies in the magnetogram, while the use of volcanic rock would result in positive anomalies. Mudbrick or galus walls (of stamped mud) are more difficult to predict; depending on their mineral composition, they are revealing positive or negative anomalies. Fire installations or the use of fired bricks would be easily recognizable because of their high values.

A profile along a street close to the Nile River shows the different sedimentation layers very nicely: different colours as well as susceptibility values can be seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Magnetic susceptibility values (in 10-3 SI) of a profile next to the Nile (M. Scheiblecker).

This example shows the complexity of magnetic susceptibility in combination with colours; darker and brighter layers show similar values, whereas the surface reaches the highest value. The layer with pebbles reveals the lowest value due to the included pebbles of probably sedimentary origin. For understanding the environment of archaeological sites and their formation processes, it is important to consider not only the survey, excavation and magnetometry results itself. Furthermore, knowledge in geology, geomorphology as well as the investigation of their parameters add details for a comprehensive picture of an archaeological landscape.

At the end, if you are asking yourself how magnetizable you are: without any ferromagnetic items from your clothes or e.g. glasses, the magnetic susceptibility would be almost zero or even negative, as the human body consists mostly of water.


Aspinall, A.; Gaffney, C.F.; Schmidt, A. (2008): Magnetometry for Archaeologists. Geophysical methods for archaeology 2. Lanham: AltaMira Press.

Butler, R.F. (1998): Paleomagnetism: Magnetic Domains to Geologic Terranes: Electronic Edition. Boston: Blackwell.

Dalan, R. (2017): Susceptiblity. In: Allan S. Gilbert, Paul Goldberg, Vance T. Holliday, Rolfe D. Mandel and Robert Siegmund Sternberg (eds.): Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology. Dordrecht: Springer Reference (Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series), 939–944.

Fassbinder, J.W.E.; Stanjek, H.; Vali, H. (1990): Occurrence of Magnetic Bacteria in Soil. Nature 343 (6254), 161–163.

Fassbinder, Jörg W. E. (2017): Magnetometry for Archaeology. In: Allan S. Gilbert, Paul Goldberg, Vance T. Holliday, Rolfe D. Mandel and Robert Siegmund Sternberg (eds.): Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology. Dordrecht: Springer Reference (Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series), 499–514.

Lowrie, W. (2007): Fundamentals of Geophysics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

More than greyscale: How to read magnetograms in the MUAFS concession area

The magnetic data collected at our first campaign in the Attab to Ferka region in 2018/2019 was first processed and interpreted directly after the field season. After the first excavation campaign in 2020, focusing on two of the four geophysically investigated sites, a reconsideration of the data took place. It is based on the excavation results, the photogrammetric data and new kite images.

But before looking at the data, you have to know where exactly on earth the data was generated! The Earth’s magnetic field is a complex system, which is protecting us against ultraviolet radiation, as it is deflecting most of the solar wind, which is stripping away the ozone layer. The earth’s magnetic field can be visualized as a three-dimensional vector: Declination (angle in ° to geographic north, X), Inclination (horizontal angle in ° or magnetic dip, Y) and Intensity (measured in T “Tesla” resp. nT “Nanotesla”, Z). In archaeomagnetism, all components are measured to be compared to the single curves of the region. For magnetometry and interpreting these data, the Inclination is the most important value besides the Declination, which helps for example to detect in situ burnt features. The Inclination describes the angle in which the Earth’s Magnetic Field meets the surface of the Earth itself. Therefore, the angle is changing depending on your position e. g. if you are closer to the magnetic poles or to the magnetic equator.

The geomagnetic field changes all the time, every second, every day, and every year! For Munich resp. Fürstenfeldbruck you can follow the alterations simultaneously here. The geomagnetic observatory there is part of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Department of Earth and Environmental Studies. As you may know, the magnetic poles are wandering as well. The magnetic north pole did it that fast in the last years that the navigation map had to be changed before the standard interval of five years in 2019. This world magnetic model (WMM) is available online.

But why do we have to know especially the Inclination of the area we are working in and doing magnetometry? The shape and intensity of every single anomaly is depending especially on the Inclination! The shallower the Inclination the wider the anomaly is visible in the magnetogram. Additionally, the dipole (positive/black – negative/white) components are changing. The closer we are measuring to the geomagnetic equator (not the geographic equator), the larger gets the negative part of the anomaly and the lower are the amplitudes of the magnetic signal. Figure 1 illustrates the differences in Inclination for a single anomaly.

Figure 1: Anomaly strength of the total field intensity as north-south traverse through the anomaly’s centre for different Inclinations (Ostner et al. 2019, 181 Fig. 2).

While the Inclination in Munich is around 64°, the Inclination in the MUAFS concession area is 27-28° and shallower. The components of the Earth’s Magnetic Field at the MUAFS concession area are illustrated in Figure 2, showing a Declination of almost 4° and a total field intensity of around 39.000 nT (Munich: 48.585 nT). The measured archaeological and geological features, visible in the magnetogram, are showing contrasts of sometimes less than 1 nT. Due to different Inclinations, the same archaeological feature would result in a different anomaly in Sudan compared to Munich. While the anomaly in Sudan would be wider (see the red curve, Fig. 1) than in Munich (ca. the blue curve, Fig. 1), it would cause lower intensities as well as showing more negative parts than the Munich one. This means while in Bavaria the negative part of an anomaly is regarded more as a small “white shadow”, in Sudan it would be almost equal to the positive part of the anomaly. Furthermore, depending on the depth of the buried feature, the shift in locating the feature could be larger with shallower inclination.

Figure 2: The Earth’s Magnetic Field in Sudan after World Magnetic Model (WMM) 2019, with the MUAFS concession area in red (M. Scheiblecker).

Regarding the used magnetometer – a gradiometer, the intensities are additionally lower than for example with a total field magnetometer, which makes it more difficult to interpret the data and why sometimes low value-features like pisé walls are not detectable with gradiometers. Furthermore, with wider anomalies closer to the geomagnetic equator like in Sudan, it is more possible that anomalies are overlapping so that it is not easy to distinguish features lying next to each other or from different periods.

Usually, magnetograms are shown in greyscale to avoid confusion and “pseudo-limitations” of different values and colors. For interpreting the data, one can play around with the minimum and maximum values as well as inverting of the greyscale version. On magnetograms of measurements with the total field magnetometer usually a high-pass filter is applied, which can be overlayed with the total field data as well.

In rare cases it is helpful to use color scales for the magnetograms additionally to show special features better or to highlight some very high or low values. If the magnetogram is disturbed by high magnetic anomalies like metal fences, iron rubbish on the site etc., color scales are not useful anymore, because they are showing especially the disturbances due to their high amplitudes and less of the archaeological features itself. Nevertheless, it is possible to adjust the color scale as needed for every site separately.

Illustrating the mentioned methods, I would like to show the magnetogram of GiE 002, where a cemetery is located.

Figure 3: Magnetogram of GiE 002 in greyscale (M. Scheiblecker).

The usual greyscale (Fig. 3) shows clearly the traces of the recent and former wadi/khor, tumuli-like features in the very south as well as lots of features of different shape in the northern part of the magnetogram, interpreted as graves. They are resulting in positive anomalies, accompanied by negative anomalies of different amplitudes.

Figure 4: Magnetogram of GiE 002 in blue to red color scale (M. Scheiblecker).

To understand more of the single burials it is helpful to change to a blue-red color scale (Fig. 4). In this way, it is easier to differentiate the single anomalies consisting of the positive (red) and negative (blue) part.

Figure 5: Magnetogram of GiE 002 in highlighted grey scale, showing maximum values in red as well as minimum values in yellow (M. Scheiblecker).

Highlighting the minimum and maximum values – in yellow resp. red – helps e. g. focusing on the probably best-preserved archaeological features located in the center of the measured area, visible in Figure 5.

The magnetograms of GiE 002 show clearly that it is worth playing around with different color scales and that there is more than one magnetogram important for interpreting the data for archaeological and geological purposes.


Fassbinder, J. W. E. (2017): Magnetometry for Archaeology. In: Allan S. Gilbert, Paul Goldberg, Vance T. Holliday, Rolfe D. Mandel and Robert Siegmund Sternberg (eds.): Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology. Dordrecht: Springer Reference (Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series), 499-514.

Livermore, P.W.; Finlay, C.C.; Bayliff, M. (2020): Recent north magnetic pole acceleration towards Siberia caused by flux lobe elongation. Nature Geoscience 13, 387–391.

Ostner, S.; Fassbinder, J. W. E.; Parsi, M.; Gerlach, I.; Japp, S. (2019): Magnetic prospection close to the magnetic equator: Case studies in the Tigray plateau of Aksum and Yeha, Ethiopia. In: James Bonsall (ed.): New Global Perspectives on Archaeological Prospection. 13th International Conference on Archaeological Prospection. 28 August – 1 September 2019. Sligo – Ireland. Oxford: Archaeopress, 180-183.

In focus: Site H25 in the Northern Dongola Reach

In the framework of the DiverseNile project, I have introduced the application of ‘contact space biographies’ as a new concept in the study of intercultural encounters in the Middle Nile. We will specify the question of cultural encounters through the distribution of the sites and their duration, settlement infrastructures, building techniques, production activities and technologies, trade, diet, material culture, burial customs, religious practices and social structures. The importance of peripheral areas, like the Attab to Ferka region, for our understanding of cultural formations will be stressed. In line with this, the DiverseNile Seminar Series 2021 focuses on cultural diversity in Northeast Africa, giving several case studies from various perspectives.

Our next presentation, to be held tomorrow by Loretta Kilroe, will introduce an exciting example of so-called ‘provincial’ Kerma remains in the Northern Dongola Reach.

Site H25 was partly excavated in the last years and yielded settlement remains and evidence from the Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan eras (Ross 2014; Porter 2019; Kilroe 2019). The site is, among others, shedding new light onto trade networks in New Kingdom Nubia. Because Loretta is an expert on ancient Egyptian and Sudanese pottery, she will focus tomorrow on ceramics and what they can tell us about frontier economics.

I am personally very much looking forward to this exciting presentation about an as yet little known but very important site! As usual, last minute registrations are still possible and highly welcome!


Kilroe, L., 2019. ‘H25 2019 – the ceramics,’ Sudan & Nubia 23: 81‒84.

Porter, S., 2019. ‘Excavations at H25 in the Northern Dongola Reach,’ Sudan & Nubia 23: 77‒80.

Ross, T.I., 2014. ‘El-Eided Mohamadein (H25): A Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan settlement on the Alfreda Nile,’ Sudan & Nubia 18: 58‒68.

Back to practical work: Experimental archaeology in Asparn

It’s hard to believe – after more than one year with cancelled fieldwork in Egypt and Sudan, with online teaching including a digital format for our block seminar „Introduction to field archaeology“, it is now finally happening again: we are getting ready to go „to the field“ – respectively to practical work in Asparn/Zaya in Austria.

As a follow-up to our activities within the AcrossBorders project and built on the then established cooperation with the University of Vienna, we will conduct experimental archaeology related to Egyptian fire dogs and Nubian cooking pots at the MAMUZ Museum. Three days full of experiments are ahead of us – they take place within the framework of a MA course on field archaeology and will combine teaching with pressing research questions like the specific use of fire dogs.

Modern replicas of so-called fire dogs supporting copies of cooking pots (photo: J. Budka). Since 2013, we have been testing various positions and arrangments – is this one the best solution?

Among others, we will produce a new set of replicas of fire dogs and will then test them with modern copies of Nubian cooking pots. Back in 2019, we were very successful in using one fire dog with a dung fire to heat dishes like bulgur. Temperatures of 450-580° were enough, the cooking time was c. 20 min and the addition of fuel was easy. This year we will make some new tests with barely.

Patrizia and me back in 2019 with the successful preparation of bulgur in a cookingpot held by one fire dog in the newly proposed position (photo: J. Distefano).

As fuel for our experiments we will use various animal dung – we verified already in 2018 that dung as fuel works very fine and is indeed a possible alternative to wood which was scarce and precious in both ancient Egypt and Sudan.

The three main types of animal dung we will use this year at Asparn. Note the considerable difference in size and composition of the droppings! (photo: J. Budka).

This year, thanks to a kind colleague and friend here in Munich, we will also be able to test camel dung along with horse and cattle. Of course the domestication of camels in Egypt and Sudan happened much later than our period in question, the Late Bronze Age (camels were getting important in Ptolemaic times only), but burning ‘exotic’ animal dung in Austria is just very tempting and hopefully it will give a sense of being in the field in northeast Africa as well.

Looking much forward to this excursion starting the day after tomorrow and many thanks to all the colleagues in Vienna and here in Munich who made it possible. Of course, we will keep you posted about our results which will also be of relevance for the ongoing DivereNile project and our understanding of food production and cooking in Bronze Age Nubia.

Facing colonisation together? The collective use of tombs in New Kingdom colonial Nubia

I studied various cemeteries throughout Nubia for my PhD on the role of foreign objects in local contexts in New Kingdom colonial Nubia. The most important of these cemeteries are Aniba, Sai and Soleb. Other important cemeteries are either gradually coming to light (e.g., Amara West) or remain totally unpublished (e.g., Sesebi). I was interested mostly in variation across sites, which I explored through an analysis of distributions of types of objects at each of them. However, the sites that I just mentioned also have a lot in common.

One of the aspects that instantly caught my attention was the collective use of tombs, both synchronically and diachronically. It is interesting how Egyptologists usually interpret New Kingdom Nubia through the lens of Egyptianisation, but at the same fail to recognise one structural difference between the organisation of elite cemeteries in Egypt and Nubia in the New Kingdom. While elite tombs in Egypt, in places such as Thebes, bear an essential connection with one’s individuality, tombs at elite cemeteries in Nubia are essentially collective. One well-documented example is tomb 26 on Sai island, which will be published very soon (Budka 2021).

These tombs are usually interpreted as family tombs, which remains a plausible hypothesis. Elite tombs in New Kingdom Nubia usually consist of a vertical shaft leading to a main chamber connected with various smaller burial chambers. Inside these smaller chambers, there are the burials of more or less contemporary individuals. Individual chambers are usually occupied by “couples”; e.g. Khnummose and his alleged wife at Sai tomb 26 (figure 1) and Wsir and Taneferet at Aniba tomb S91. Later burials are usually placed in the larger main chamber, where archaeologists usually find scattered bones, and disarticulated skeletons alongside New Kingdom Egyptian-style objects and later pottery styles in upper layers. In extreme cases of tomb reuse, vertical shafts could be completely filled with burials, one on top of the other, as evidence from Soleb demonstrates.

Figure 1: burial chamber of Master of Goldsmiths Khnummose and his “wife”. Courtesy of the AcrossBorders project.

If we move to non-elite contexts we’ll find a different situation. In a context of overall material limitations, cemeteries are characterised by a vast majority of single burials possessing no burial goods or a few pots. The best example of non-elite cemetery in New Kingdom Nubia is Fadrus, which bears similarities with various non-elite cemeteries in New Kingdom Egypt in terms of scarcity. However, at Fadrus, a few larger tombs contained a considerably higher quantity of burial goods. These tombs are characterised by their collective use, both contemporaneously and by later generations.

I have suggested in a paper that will be published in the next Sudan & Nubia that the larger, collective tombs of Fadrus should not be interpreted as evidence for inter-site hierarchies, as has been done in the past. Instead, in my forthcoming paper, I suggested that these tombs should be interpreted through the lens of collective engagement theory (DeMarrais and Earle 2017; Lemos forthcoming). In a context of scarcity within a colonised Nubia, people seem to have gathered together to achieve more, namely access to Egyptian-style objects, including more restricted items within the New Kingdom Nubian mortuary landscape. On the contrary, those who remained by themselves ended up buried with no accompanying goods. It is possible that a similar collective logic was behind the organisation of cemeteries associated with Egyptian temple-towns such as Aniba, Sai and Soleb. However, it remains a difficult task to distinguish phases and individual burials sharing restricted Egyptian-style objects due to the high degree of plundering and the quality of most of the published evidence (see Näser 2017).

With DiverseNile, my focus turns to a different social space: geographical peripheries of temple-towns. Elite cemeteries associated with colonial centres seem to have been organized by extended families buried in collective tombs which were later reused. Non-elite cemeteries consisted of mostly poor individual graves with a few larger collective tombs housing the bodies of individuals potentially sharing objects that remained out of the reach of most their peers. In a different way, the burial evidence from the peripheries usually consist of graves scattered through the landscape with and a few ‘formal’ cemeteries. Scarcity also seems to be the rule here. However, there are also collective exceptions.

Chamber tomb 5-T-32 was among the sites excavated by the West Bank Survey from Faras to Gemai in Lower Nubia (figure 2). It consisted of a shallow mudbrick tomb divided into an entrance area leading via an unblocked arched doorway to an outer chamber or chapel, and a sealed arched doorway leading to the burial chamber. The tomb was located in the periphery of Mirgissa, one of the earlier fortresses reoccupied in the New Kingdom, and was plundered in ancient times. The excavators dated the tomb to the mid-18th Dynasty. The fact that no burials were placed in the outer chamber distinguishes tomb 5-T-32 from tombs at elite cemeteries associated with centres of colonial administration, such as nearby Aniba. The remains of 38 individuals were recovered from the burial chamber, eleven of which in situ. The bodies were deposited in an extended position, and remains of wood and rope suggest the existence of simpler mat coffins tied with ropes, which also appear in non-elite contexts in Egypt. Finds include steatite scarabs with parallels found at various Nubian cemeteries, New Kingdom pottery including a pilgrim flask, and a bronze finger ring and wooden headrest, which were more restricted objects in the Nubian mortuary objectscape of the New Kingdom.

Figure 2: tomb 5-T-32 in Abu Sir, periphery of Mirgissa (Nordström 2014: 135–137; plates 32–33).

In a previous post, I discussed tomb 3-P-50 at Ginis West containing some nice restricted Egyptian-style objects, despite its tumulus superstructure. Although the tomb was plundered, with only scattered bones being recovered, it was most likely used collectively. After looking at the evidence from tombs such as 5-T-32 and 3-P-50, located in the periphery of Mirgissa and Amara West, respectively, I started feeling like there’s something happening here. At this stage, I’m still scratching the surface, but I think it’s probably a good idea to keep pursuing the communal engagement path to see what we can potentially learn from the peripheries of colonised Nubia. Therefore, I was especially happy to hear Andrea Manzo talk about heterarchy and communal engagement in Eastern Sudan in our last DiverseNile seminar (see also Manzo 2017). Degrees of variations can be detected amid elite sites, while evidence from non-elite sites provides us grounds from which to discuss alternative social realities taking place in colonised Nubia. I don’t really know what to expect from the colonial peripheries, but I’m optimistic evidence from these areas will allows to expand the discussion on alternative social realities, especially in the light of fresh excavations planned for the near future.

Further reading

Budka, J. 2021. Tomb 26 on Sai island: A New Kingdom elite tomb and its relevance for Sai and beyond (with contributions by J. Auenmüller, C. Geiger, R. Lemos, A. Stadlmayr and M. Wohlschlager). Leiden: Sidestone Press [in press].

DeMarrais, E. and T. Earle. 2017. Collective Action Theory and the Dynamics of Complex Societies. Annual Review of Anthropology 46: 183–201.

Lemos, R. 2020. Material Culture and Colonization in Ancient Nubia: Evidence from the New Kingdom Cemeteries. Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, ed. C. Smith. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-51726-1.

Lemos, R. forthcoming. Heart Scarabs and Other Heart-Related Objects in New Kingdom Nubia. Sudan & Nubia 25.

Manzo, A. 2017. Architecture, Power, and Communication: Case Studies from Ancient Nubia. African Archaeological Review 34: 121–143. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-016-9239-6.

Näser, C. 2017. Structures and Realities of the Egyptian Presence in Lower Nubia from the Middle Kingdom to the New Kingdom. In Nubia in the New Kingdom: Lived Experience, Pharaonic Control and Indigenous Traditions, ed. N. Spencer, A. Stevens and M. Binder, 557– 574. Leuven: Peeters.

Nördström, H.-Å. 2014. The West Bank Survey from Faras to Gemai. Oxford: Archaeopress.

New reinforcement for our DiverseNile team

One of the most pleasant tasks as a PI of research projects is to introduce and welcome new team members. It is especially nice when this concerns junior staff – and it is great joy if the next generation of students replaces persons who have just completed their studies and are no longer working as student employees. This is exactly what I can proudly announce today: our former student assistant Jessica has graduated with great success and will soon join us as new PhD candidate with her own individual tasks in the framework of DiverseNile. Her place as student assistant is now taken by Sawyer Neumann, a very promising student of archaeology who is particularly interested in archaeological design and 3D applications.

Our new team member Sawyer

To some of you who follow our blog on a regular basis this name may sound already familiar – Sawyer is one of the students who wrote guest blog posts about our block seminar “Introduction to field archaeology” back in March. It was on this occasion of the online seminar that we first met Sawyer and some weeks later we were really impressed by his application.

I am very happy that he is now joining us and looking much forward to a fruitful collaboration both here in Munich and hopefully also soon in the field in Sudan.

Anything than marginal: A View from Eastern Sudan and Mersa/Wadi Gawasis by Andrea Manzo

Our DiverseNile Online Seminar Series under the general topic of “Cultural Diversity in Northeast Africa” has a wide chronological and regional scope. Tomorrow, we will expand this scope and include Eastern Sudan and the Red Sea. We will continue with an exciting presentation by Andrea Manzo (Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”) who will speak about “Complexity and Connectivity Between the Nile Valley and the Red Sea in the 3rd and 2nd Mill. BC. A View from Eastern Sudan and Mersa/Wadi Gawasis”.

Our speaker is Professor of the Archaeology of the Nile Valley and Ethiopian Archaeology at the University of Naples „L’Orientale“ and has a rich record in fieldwork in Sudan and Ethiopia. He is one of the key figures who started to explore Eastern Sudan with state-of-the-art methods and theories in the last decades. Previously considered as “margial” area, simply reflecting our previous focus on the Nile Valley rather than desert areas, we now have a basic understanding of the complex history of this region over the millennia. His excellent book on Easter Sudan is available in Open Access and highly recommended (Manzo 2017; see also Manzo 2019). Most importantly, Andrea Manzo and his team were able to illustrate the high level of connectivity of Eastern Sudan with the Nile Valley and also the Red Sea, in particular Mersa/Wadi Gawasis. His work allows to contextualise several findings which go far beyond the reconstruction of trade but show the importance of areas outside the Nile Valley.

In Eastern Sudan, there are in particular the so-called Gash Group and the Jebel Mokram Group which are highly relevant to our understanding of cultural diversity in Bronze Age Sudan. Especially the Gash group is intriguing, with several sites where locally made and also imported ceramics were found, including „exotic ceramics showing similarities with Kerma, C-Group, Pan-Grave“ (Manzo 2017, 33).

Thanks to Andrea Manzo, we now understand Eastern Sudan as a crossroad between the Nile basin, the Eastern Desert, the Ethio-Eritrean highlands and the Red Sea. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s presentation within the DiverseNile Seminar Series on previously neglected regions far away from the Nile Valley!

Participation is free and registration via email is still possible. See you all tomorrow!


Manzo, Andrea 2017. Eastern Sudan in its setting: the archaeology of a region far from the Nile Valley. Access Archaeology; Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology 94. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Manzo, Andrea 2019. Eastern Sudan in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. In Raue, Dietrich (ed.), Handbook of ancient Nubia 1, 335-365. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter.

New research goals at the time of Covid-19. Testing Raman Spectroscopy on Nubian and Egyptian-style pots

If there is something that the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us is resilience, work flexibility and mostly the capacity to design alternative solutions to meet the various physical restrictions and newly shaped work conditions and needs. Further, we learned the importance of networks and acquiring skills even in remote formats, and that online (and/or hybrid) classes and conferences can give virtuous outputs as those in presence.  Within the framework of our project, a successful  example of this is certainly represented by our online Diverse Nile Seminar Series 2021 Cultural Diversity in Northeast Africa.

For me operating within the Work package 3 of the project and principally dealing with laboratory analysis on the material data – ceramic samples – collected in the field, the pandemic has inevitably meant that I had to shift my main focus from the study of fresh excavation data to the study of reference collections. Hence, in the last months my work schedule has been mainly centred on documentation, database archive, and comparison among the various ceramic datasets. Also, the obligatory permanence in Germany (missing the field and the warmness of the Sudanese sun) together with the need to work often via remote or, whenever possible from the lab, pushed me to convey my working goals to search for new theoretical approaches and interpretative inputs, eventually enlarging the spectrum of the analytical competencies and methodologies devoted to the study of the ceramic samples.

In these circumstances the idea was born together with our PI and other colleagues from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the LMU to cooperate and expand the networking between our departments hence to test together a new analytical methodology for archaeological ceramic material, namely Raman Spectroscopy.

This technique, which took its unusual name after the Indian physicist C. V. Raman who was the first to observe Raman scattering in 1928 and won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930 for this discovery, is a molecular spectroscopy procedure which provides information about vibration and rotational states of molecules. It works using the interaction of a source of monochromatic light, normally an intensive monochromatic laser radiation, and the matter of the sample. The largest part (99.99%) of the laser light radiates through the sample, a very small proportion is scattered in all spatial directions (so-called Rayleigh scattering), finally an even smaller part is scattered inelastically (so-called Raman scattering). This latter contains information about the sample, its molecular structure (no the single chemical elements) and specific characteristics of the material (see among others, Spieß et al. 1999; also What is Raman Spectroscopy? | Raman Spectroscopy Principle (edinst.com); Raman spectroscopy – Wikipedia).

For the study of archaeological samples like ceramics, Raman spectroscopy has the advantage of being a non-destructive (only a minimum portion of the sample as the same slide of the thin section is needed), rapid and relatively low-priced technique. However, the high potential of this methodology may collide with the natural heterogeneity of most of the ancient, especially hand-made, ceramic manufactures (Medeghini et al. 2014; Vandenabeele & Van Pevenage 2017; see also Legodi & de Waal 2007). This is why, at the moment, our goal consists primarily to observe the methodological potentials of Raman and discern its use for our specific research questions.

For our trial study, we selected ten samples (of which six are ceramics from Sai Island and four from the Dukki Gel’s reference collection). All of them are either locally produced cooking pots or other local ware manufactured both according to the so-called Nubian and Egyptian style (Figure 1). In testing this new analytical technique, our main aims are the following: to search for differences in producing technique and firing temperatures/regimes 1) between the Nubian and Egyptian-style samples; 2) between the Nubian samples from Sai Island and those from Dukki Gel; 3) between the Egyptian-style samples from Sai Island and those from Dukki Gel; 4) among the different Nubian types (cooking pots with basketry impressions, incisions, and others). In addition, we also want to look at the behaviour of the organics and their carbonization and check for a possibility of a better characterisation of some opaque mineral phases.

Figure 1 – Examples of Nubian cooking pots with basketry impressions from Sai Island (left) and Dukki Gel; Kerma (right).

In the last days, together with the colleague Fabian Dellefant, geoscientist and doctoral student at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the LMU, we have realized high resolution scans of the selected ceramic thin sections and photographed them at the petrographic microscope under different light conditions (both transmitted cross polarized and plane polarized light, and also reflected light) in order to describe and document the areas which we are ultimately going to analyse by Raman.

Stay tuned to know more about our ongoing work and first results!

Selected references and links

Legodi, M. A. &, de Waal, D. 2007. Raman spectroscopic study of ancient South African domestic clay pottery, Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy, 66, Issue 1, 135-142.

Medeghini et al. 2014. Micro-Raman spectroscopy and ancient ceramics: applications and problems. Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, 45, Issue 11-12, Special Issue: Raman in Art and Archaeology 2013, 1244-1250.

Spieß, G. et al. 1999. Eine einfache Einführung in die Raman-Spektroskopie. LMU. Die quantitative Analyse (uni-muenchen.de).

Vandenabeele, P. & Van Pevenage J. 2017. Raman Spectroscopy and the Study of Ceramic Manufacture: Possibilities, Results, and Challenges. In Hunt, Al (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Archaeological Ceramic Analysis.

What is Raman Spectroscopy? | Raman Spectroscopy Principle (edinst.com)